2019 is shaping up to be a big year for farming. There’s the Agriculture Bill, a new Environmental Land Management scheme, a developing National Food Strategy and forecasts of ever more extreme weather events in response to climate change. Brexit could also have a huge impact on farming and our food supplies.
The Agriculture Bill sets out how farmers and land managers will be paid for ‘public goods’ in future; that includes better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding. Currently direct payments are made for the area of land farmed. The new Environmental Land Management scheme will see those providing the greatest environmental benefit securing the largest rewards. Tests and trials begin this year.
Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Defra (Department for Food and Rural Affairs) has commissioned a National Food Strategy with the ambition of building a food system that delivers healthy and affordable food for all people; restores and enhances the environment for the next generation; is robust in the face of future challenges and is built on a sustainable and resilient agriculture sector. It’ll be interesting to see what emerges from this, and whether it’s ultimately supported by the agriculture sector and, perhaps more importantly, its customers.
A ‘no deal’ Brexit is looking more and more likely. We don’t know what that will mean for our food supply, imports and exports. We could see disruption with perishable foods being caught in transit if importing and exporting faces delays. Did you know that lots of us in the UK like the bigger lambs we import from New Zealand whilst many of our small lambs are exported to Greece, who prefer them? What happens to those smaller UK lambs if we continue to import from NZ but exporting to Greece becomes too expensive or complicated for our UK farmers?
So, what does all this mean for us, the consumers? An agriculture sector that is incentivised for enhancing, not degrading, the environment has got to be a good thing? But will it drive up the costs of our food making it even harder to reach for many?
There’s been talk about how sustainable eating meat is and about the health and welfare of how our meat is ‘grown’. Should we be eating less meat whilst demanding much better quality?
Lots of change, uncertainty and questions. Perhaps the thing we can all do is buy local, seasonal and sustainable as much as we can, and encourage other to do the same?